Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of A Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.
In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.
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Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2014 Charlie Lovett
Steventon, Hampshire, 1796
Fond as she was of solitary walks, Jane had been wandering rather longer than she had intended, her mind occupied not so much with the story she had lately been reading as with one she hoped soon to be writing. She was shaken from this reverie by the sight of an unfamiliar figure, sitting on a stile, hunched over a book. Her first impression was that he was the picture of gloom—dressed in shabby clerical garb, a dark look on his crinkled face, doubtless a volume of dusty sermons clutched in his ancient hand. Even the weather seemed to agree with this assessment, for while the sun shone all around him, he sat in the shadow of the single cloud that hung in the Hampshire sky. Realizing how far she had come from home, Jane thought it best to retrace her steps without interrupting the cleric’s thoughts as he had unknowingly interrupted hers. During the long walk home, across fields shimmering with the haze of summer heat, she amused herself by sketching out a character of this old man, storing him away, like so many others, for possible inclusion in some novel yet to be conceived. He was, she decided, a natural history enthusiast, but his passion lay not with anything beautiful like butterflies or wildflowers. No, his particular expertise was in the way of garden slugs, of which he could identify twenty-six varieties.
By week’s end, Jane had filled in the pathetic details of his life. Disappointed in love, he had turned to natural history, where the objects of his pursuit were less likely to spurn his advances. As his passion for his study grew, and as he shared it more enthusiastically with those around him, his invitations to dine gradually declined until he was left alone on most evenings with his books and his slugs. He was a melancholy figure, which made it all the more shocking to find him, on Sunday morning, not only seated in the Austen family pew, but smiling broadly and greeting her by name.
Jane had led the family procession from the rectory to the small stone church of St. Nicholas, where her father was rector. The church stood on the far outskirts of the village, flanked by flat, green meadows. After passing through the rectory gates into the narrow lane that led to the church, the Austens had fallen in with several villagers. When she had concluded her pleasantries with these acquaintances, Jane had not a moment to respond to the stranger’s greeting before the service began and she found herself separated from him by her mother and her sister Cassandra; of her six brothers, none were currently in residence in Steventon.
The man’s robust baritone voice, evident in his hymn singing, exuded a spirit that was anything but melancholy. Jane endured a sharp elbow from Cassandra for not attending to the gospel reading; instead, she was trying to watch the man out of the corner of her eye. She failed to follow the thread of her father’s sermon, lost as she was in a reevaluation of the stranger’s history. By the time the service ended she was thoroughly intrigued and determined to secure a proper introduction to satisfy her curiosity about the true nature of his character.
“Go along home and I shall wait for Father,” she told her mother and Cassandra as they stood beside the ancient yew tree that clung to the west end of the church. Jane felt certain that a visiting clergyman with leave to occupy the Austen pew must be known to her father, and she expected Mr. Austen to make the necessary introduction, so it came as a surprise when she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to face the stranger, who addressed her in a cheerful voice.
“Miss Jane Austen, if I am not mistaken.”
“You are at an advantage, sir,” said Jane. “You know my name, but I do not know yours.”
“Mansfield. Reverend Richard Mansfield at your service,” he said with a slight bow. “But we have nearly met already.”
“What can you mean, sir?”
“Only that two days ago you emerged from the waving grain of Lord Wintringham’s field and stopped in your tracks when you spotted me reading on a stile just outside Busbury Park. At the time I conceived the idea that you were a rather dull and impetuous young lady, but I already begin to suspect that I may have been mistaken.” His eyes twinkled in the morning sun as he said this, and his smile transformed from one meant for the general public to one that seemed to be reserved solely for Jane.
“I hope you will come to believe so, Mr. Mansfield. I have been accused of having many faults by those who know me well, but neither dullness nor impetuousness has been among them.”
“And of what faults do they accuse you?”
“My worst, or so I am told, are a too highly developed interest in fictionalizing my acquaintances and a tendency to form opinions of others hastily.”
“Opinions such as the one you formed of me when you saw me alone with my book?”
“You do me wrong, sir. You assume first that I saw you, second that I gave your appearance sufficient thought to form an opinion, and third that my opinion was ill considered.”
“In the first case,” said Mr. Mansfield, “I observed you myself, for though your mind may have been elsewhere, your eyes were certainly on me; in the second case, your father tells me, somewhat to my surprise, that you aspire to write novels, so I can only assume that anyone you meet may become a victim of your imagination; and in the third case it seems impossible that you would have guessed the extent to which our interests overlap.”
“I confess that shared interests did not occur to me. I imagined you a student of natural history, reading . . . but you will laugh when I tell you.”
“I enjoy a good laugh,” said Mr. Mansfield.
“I imagined you reading a book on garden slugs.”
Mr. Mansfield did laugh, long and heartily, before confessing the true nature of his reading. “It may shock you, Miss Austen, but in fact I was reading a novel.”
“A novel! You do shock me, sir. Do you not find novels full of nonsense? I myself find them the stupidest things in creation.”
“Then you read novels?”
“Novels! I’m surprised at you, Mr. Mansfield, suggesting that a young lady such as myself, the daughter of a clergyman, no less, could occupy her time with such horrid things as novels.”
“You tease me, Miss Austen.”
“Indeed I do not, Mr. Mansfield, for though you know that I aspire to write novels, you cannot expect that I would take my interest in the form so far as to actually read them.” Because Mr. Mansfield was old enough to be her grandfather, Jane took the bold step of adding a wink to this statement and turned toward the rectory. The congregation had dispersed and only the sounds of birdsong and the breeze in the yew tree disturbed the silence of the morning. Jane was pleased when Mr. Mansfield fell into step beside her as she made her way up the tree-lined lane. With the summer sun now high in the sky, she was grateful for the cooling shade.
“Surely, Mr. Mansfield, your shortest route to Busbury Park lies in the opposite direction,” said Jane.
“Indeed it does, but you are assuming again, Miss Austen. First that I am staying at the park, and second that I am taking my luncheon there.”
“And my novelist’s imagination has deceived me again?”
“Not entirely,” said Mr. Mansfield. “For I am a guest at Busbury Park, but though he can offer me only cold mutton, your father has asked me to take my luncheon at the rectory.”
“I confess, Mr. Mansfield, I am sorry to hear it.”
“And why is that? Are you so embarrassed to be seen in the company of a novel reader?”
“On the contrary, it is because you are a novel reader that I had rather hoped to keep you to myself. Once you enter the doors of the rectory, you will become a friend to my mother and my sister Cassandra, and you will no doubt retire after lunch to the study with my father and abandon the rest of us.”
“Surely, Miss Austen,” said Mr. Mansfield, “I can be both a visitor at the rectory and a special friend of the rector’s younger daughter.”
“I believe, Mr. Mansfield,” said Jane as she took the clergyman’s arm, “that I should like that very much indeed.”
What People are Saying About This
“A delightful novel.”
“[A] thrilling romance.”
—Woman’s Day, “WD Picks”
“A charming story.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“Part mystery, part love story, First Impressions is a 100 percent thumping good read and a loving homage to one of literature’s most beloved authors. Lovett takes readers on a rollicking adventure that cleverly weaves in the best elements of Austen’s novels, while also giving life to Austen’s own personal history in a satisfying and captivating way. It’s a giddy novel that celebrates books and the people who love them as much as it entertains, making it the perfect read for bookworms and Janeites alike.”
“A completely captivating and charming book….the author’s passion for Jane Austen and his knowledge of printing methods and practices of the 1700s truly make this book a standout. The reader gets a nice adventure story, a little bit of romance and mystery, and a real feel for book collecting and for the author’s love of Jane Austen. If it’s a love you share, you may well find this book irresistible.”
“This novel is both beautiful and exciting….A must-read, especially for those who love books, writing and reading!”
—Historical Novels Review
“Fans of Austen will devour the backstory. . . . Lovers of intrigue and romance will relish the presentday journey. . . . Bibliophiles will savor the interconnectedness of both stories. . . . First Impressions is an Austen appetizer—leaving the reader eager to explore or revisit works that have touched us for more than two centuries.”
—The Mountain Times
“A book about books . . . an intriguing story [about] an author whose stories have not lost their romantic appeal in two hundred years.”
“[An] ingenious novel….Ardent fans of Jane Austen and lovers of gripping stories will enjoy following Sophie’s pursuit of the truth.”
“[An] appealing combination of mystery, romance, and bibliophilism….An absolute must for Austen fans, a pleasure for others.”
“A delightful read that Janeites will love….[Lovett] adds bookish intrigue to the life of another luminary of English literature.”
“Lovett’s tale is a lovely and entertaining one…that lovers of Austen and antiquarian books will adore.”
“Lovett’s love of books and libraries once again energizes his storytelling.”
“Charlie Lovett’s delightful First Impressions weaves together two stories: one about a modern young woman who loves books and the other about the friendship between nineteenth-century novelist Jane Austen and a clergyman. The result is an inventive tale with elements of romance and suspense, wrapped around a bookish mystery that will please lovers of old libraries and Austen fans.”
—Deborah Harkness, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Life
“Jane Austen, true love, great books, and a literary mystery of epic proportions: Charlie Lovett packs all my favorite things into a thoroughly engaging story that keeps us enthralled to the very last page. Austen herself would adore the counter-point heroine, the bright and delightful Sophie Collingwood. A pure gem.”
—Katherine Reay, author of Dear Mr. Knightley
“Brimming with charm and intrigue, Charlie Lovett’s new novel will leave a lasting impression on lovers of books, literary enigmas, and the eternally fascinating Jane Austen. First Impressions spans centuries, but time ceases to exist as Lovett’s riveting story begins to unfold.”
—Erika Robuck, author of Hemingway’s Girl
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a reader in want of a marvelous mystery and lovely literary fiction must be in want of First Impressions. With a deep understanding of Jane Austen and a deft hand at mystery, Lovett strikes the perfect chord between literature and a first rate thriller.”
—Craig Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of the Walt Longmire Mysteries, the basis of A&E’s hit series Longmire
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“A good book is like a good friend. It will stay with you for the rest of your life. When you first get to know it, it will give you excitement and adventure, and years later it will provide you with comfort and familiarity. And best of all, you can share it with your children or your grandchildren or anyone you love enough to let into its secrets.” First Impressions is the fourth novel by American writer, teacher and playwright, Charlie Lovett. After Sophie Collingwood’s beloved Uncle Bertram dies, and his treasured book collection is sold off, she eventually consoles herself by working for his favourite bookseller, Augustus Boxhill at Antiquarian Books in London. Quite soon after she starts there, she is presented with a request to source a rare second edition of an obscure little book of allegories written by Reverend Richard Mansfield in 1796. But what is most intriguing is that two different customers ask for the book in fairly quick succession. And, distracting her from her search, two things: the memory of a moonlight kiss from a rather cheeky American, and the nagging feeling that her Uncle’s death was not accidental. The present day narrative alternates with chapters that describe moments in the real and imagined life of Jane Austen as she was about to embark on her second novel, tentatively titled First Impressions; and events in the lives of Richard Mansfield and of a certain eighteenth century printer, Gilbert Monkhouse. Lovett has extensive experience with book collectors, collections and all manner of libraries, and his expertise in antiquarian bookshops and rare editions is apparent on every page. He imparts a wealth of knowledge, about books, about printing and about Jane Austen, and presents it in an easily digestible manner. There are some parallels between the two timelines: an older mentor who dies; the haunting sight of empty bookshelves; and meetings during a waterside stroll. Lovett skilfully blends fact with fiction and the “what if” scenario on which the plot hangs generates more than enough mystery to make this a real page-turner with an exciting climax. Lovett creates a marvellous cast of characters, some of whom will certainly have the reader wondering about their honesty and their motivations. Contrary to her usual behaviour, Sophie finds herself shoplifting a very expensive book, stealing from a library, and breaking into a house, but her reverence at holding a first edition of Pride and Prejudice assures the reader of her pure intentions. Lovett paints Austen as an intelligent, thoughtful young woman with remarkable moral strength and a delightful sense of humour. Those die-hard fans of Austen who recoil at the mere mention of Austen and plagiarism in the same sentence should take heed of a remark Bertram makes to Sophie: ”But the truth and a good story are not always the same thing, now, are they?” The cover of the Text Publishing edition is particularly evocative, and this excellent literary mystery will have readers seeking out more work by this fine author.
I received an ARC of this book from Penguin First to Read program in exchange for a fair and honest review. I enjoyed reading this book. It was a quick and interesting read. There was a lot going on in the book but it was fairly easy to follow. It is told in alternating points of view and this was handled quite well. Both stories meshed quite well as the story progressed. I was able to figure out the mystery fairly early in the book but that did not detract from the overall enjoyment of the story. Character development was a little weak. I immediately connected with Sophie, however, and found that I easily related to her. Although I am not a huge Jane Austen fan like Sophie, I really enjoyed reading the part of the story involving her. I liked how it supported the main storyline as it progressed. I would recommend this book. It is fun to read and had a good flow. This is my first Charlie Lovett book but I am intrigued by his writing and will probably read more of his books.
This book was given to me by Penguin First to Read in anticipation of a review. I am wary of real life people being used as fictional characters. Do I still read the fiction? Well yes, but Edgar Allen Poe, Abraham Lincoln, etc. have been really put through the literary mill in too many genres to count and with varying levels of success. Jane Austen is rapidly, if not surpassing, her fellows in the race for the most fictional appearances. “First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen” by Charlie Lovett is such an attempt. The novel runs two parallel storylines. One with Jane Austen in the early stages of her writing career and the other set in the present day. The stories complement one another rather nicely. There are elements of mystery, romance, literary doings and bibliophilia, the latter of which any sufferer of “the gentle madness” can truly understand. I found this work to be both interesting and enjoyable. I’m looking forward to reading the first novel by this author and more in the future.
First Impressions by Charlie Lovett is a book about books. It is a novel about writers, readers, printers, and booksellers thrown together in a mystery involving Jane Austen and the authorship of Pride and Prejudice. I couldn't help comparing Jane Austen and Sophie Collingwood, the protagonist of the novel. Both are young women with a passion, one for writing, the other for reading and treasuring books. Jane, however, came from a family that admired and praised her stories. Sophie's father inherited a large library of old and valuable books for which he has no appreciation, but cannot sell due to the terms of the inheritance. His brother Bertram is allowed to choose one book from the library each year to take as his own. This was the agreement made after their father's death. It is up to Sophie's uncle Bertram to nurture her love of books and teach her to value their history. When Bertram dies in a fall down the stairs at his London flat, Sophie becomes entangled in a search for a book he owned that could be a link to Jane Austen. In fact, the book could be the basis for Pride and Prejudice, and someone else may have written it. As Sophie sets out to find the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield, she finds that her life may be in danger. Two men have approached her at the bookshop where she is now employed. One is an attractive young publisher who pursues Sophie romantically while she searches for the book. The other makes threatening phone calls. First Impressions tells the story of Sophie Collingwood's search alternately with the fictional story of Jane Austen and her friend and mentor Richard Mansfield. The stories come together as the family histories of the characters connect over the years since Austen's death. It is an intriguing story of an author whose stories have not lost their romantic appeal in two hundred years. (As published in Suspense Magazine)
Oh how I love stories set in bookshops, that contain far more than one would expect at first glance. Charlie Lovett gives us a story in two parts – a lovely little mystery with a romance in the present day, based on Austen novels, and a parallel storyline that is focused on Jane Austen herself and her relationship with a clergyman who encourages her writing and fuels her aspirations. Both stories add to one another, giving the reader plenty of scope for solving the mystery or guessing wildly. Sophie’s beloved Uncle Bertram has died, and his debts have required the liquidation of his not unsubstantial collection of rare and not so books. Sophie is furious with her father, and is determined to see the collection to new hands, while she ferrets out the cause of her uncle’s death. To that end, she takes a position in a bookshop, where two collectors are searching for the same rare title, and will go to great lengths to secure their prize. As she is researching to find this particular book, the story of Sophie and Jane start to proceed along their parallel path, providing a lovely mix of past and present, familiar and new to the reader. Add in an American academic with a penchant for Austen and an eye for Sophie, and the romances from Jane and Sophie seem to blend and switch places, even as you are working out the mysteries. Beautifully written with a twist in that the epilogue comes from the protagonist rather than the narrator, this little story is a quiet jaunt that is the perfect cup of tea and a fireplace story: sure to please readers who appreciate cleverly crafted stories that feel familiar but are utterly unique. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
I absolutely adored this book. Loved it from the opening pages. The Jane Austen/Rev. Mansfield portions are the real treat. The writing style and dialogue is so reminiscent of an Austen novel. The modern portion is less satisfying. While I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between Sophie and the uncle from whom she learned to love books, the thriller aspect of the story was a bit silly and the conclusion felt a bit rushed. Still, a delightful book for people who love books and the stories behind great works of literature.
A positive delight for all booklovers. FIRST IMPRESSIONS is a gripping, passionate, and compelling tale about the true love found in friendships, and the joyfulness of a life surrounded by the books we adore and treasure. I was first impressed with Charlie Lovett’s writing with THE BOOKMAN’S TALE, and now even more so with FIRST IMPRESSIONS.
I read the author's first book and enjoyed it very much. His second book was very slow moving . The characters were not very interesting. The premise of a mystery about Jane Austen was good but the story got lost. The story needed more action and main character was silly and boring. The chapters with Jane Austen were much more interesting.
It is not always true that a subtitle aptly sums up what a book is about. However, it certainly is the case here: “A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen”. Sophie Collingwood has just graduated from Oxford when she meets Eric Hall, an intriguing young American teacher who, like her, loves classic literature, especially Jane Austen. Unfortunately, the young man soon leaves for Paris to continue his travels. Shortly after, Sophie discovers that her Uncle Bertram has unexpectedly passed away. Even though the police ruled the death an accident, Sophie is convinced her uncle’s demise is suspicious, especially when she discovers his book collection is gone. Hoping to track down the lost items, she starts working at an antiquarian bookstore. Soon, the dashing Winston Godfrey shows up and asks for an obscure publication, a book of allegories by Richard Mansfield. The following day, George Smedley, a regular client at the bookstore, requests the very same book, and threatens Sophie if she doesn’t find it for him. In a parallel story, Jane Austen meets Richard Mansfield, an 80-year-old reverend who loves reading and writing. An unlikely friendship develops between the two, Mr. Mansfield encouraging Jane to continue writing her first novel. The reverend eventually confesses that he is an author as well and that he would like to publish a second edition of his book of allegories. What is the importance of this obscure publication? Why does everyone suddenly want to find it? First Impressions was a delightful novel, and I think anyone who loves reading and Jane Austen will appreciate this book. I found it interesting how the author integrated historical details about Jane Austen’s life into the story. If I am not mistaken, Chalie Lovett talks about the writing of all Jane Austen’s books, except Emma. I wonder why that is… One of the main reasons I loved First Impressions was because I identified a lot with Sophie. In fact, I wanted to be with her and Uncle Bertram when they went to bookstores or libraries. In addition, I would have loved browsing Uncle Bertram’s bookshelves and help Sophie conduct her research. In the novel, the suspense keeps up until the very end. Moreover, a love triangle spices up the mystery, as Sophie wonders who to trust: fascinating Eric or seductive Winston. The only negative comment I have about this book is how Sophie is very lucky in her research and seems to find clues to the mystery rather easily. But this is a minor criticism, and I highly recommend this novel. First Impressions was sent to me for free in exchange for an honest review. Please go to my blog, Cecile Sune - Bookobsessed, if you would like to read more reviews or discover fun facts about books and authors.
Definitely worth reading but needs a better protagonist. There are so many reasons to love this book: wonderful characters like Uncle Bertram and Mr. Mansfield, a Jane Austen mystery, a glimpse into the world of rare books. But there is one main reason not to love it: the protagonist. I wanted to scream, "Don't do that!" at her so many times I could have been watching a horror movie. But the fact that I was so engrossed in the story and felt so strongly is a testament to Mr. Lovett's skill.